December 13th - 15th 2013, Thessaloniki - The CDRSEE gathered educational experts, teachers, prominent board members, and its staff to discuss education reform and novel methods in history teaching at the regional conference His Story or History: Europe in the Trap of Populism. The conference took place in the CDRSEE’s home town of Thessaloniki at the Mediterranean Palace Hotel between December 13th and 15th, 2013.
The conference was aimed at policymakers, ministers, historians, political scientists, education experts, and teacher associations throughout South East Europe. The overarching purpose was to help tackle some of today’s challenges to history education and teaching collective history. The conference aspired to find answers to several troubling questions that face education in our communities. Some of the most outstanding issues included: Is social science underrepresented in academic curricula? How can we evaluate how well education and students are performing? Is history dividing us or helping us come together? These, and many other questions, were discussed and debated over three days of panel discussions, side meetings, and focus groups.
The conference was opened with keynote speeches by members of the CDRSEE Board of Directors, Dusan Reljic and Nikos Efthymiadis. The first panel, History as a Battlefield in the Vortex of Crisis, was moderated by Tim Judah and raised important issues on how can educators from throughout the region better synchronize their efforts to have a common, and at the same time multi-perspective and varied, curricula for teaching history. Professors from Athens, Belgrade, Istanbul, Zagreb, Sofia, Ljubljana, and Nicosia proposed better methods of collaboration and cross-border cooperation.
The second panel focused on how we can get the most out of education, have it stimulate critical thinking, and mitigate our vulnerabilities to populism. The CDRSEE’s Board Member, Costa Carras, opened the dialogue which was followed by stimulating, and at times comical, insight by the CDRSEE’s Board Chairman and former Vice Chancellor of Austria, Dr. Erhard Busek. Among his more notable points was a reminder of the need for teachers, educators, and all those concerned with progress and development, to remain cognizant of the changed medium in which we find ourselves in. This new paradigm includes a new frontier for Europe, an altered landscape due to migration and changes in labor, and the increasing adoption of new media and novel technologies. Following a brief coffee break, the discussion on reforming education end educational methods continued. Dr. Snjezana Koren of the University of Zagreb reiterated the need for history education to be an inclusive and collaborative endeavor, while Prof. Andreas Demetriou, the former Minister of Education and Culture of Cyprus, stressed the importance of education remaining independent and free of populism and political agendas. The CDRSEE’s Director of Programmes, Corinna Noack-Aetopulos, followed with detailed insight on the teaching methodology manual which is currently being launched and attempting to mitigate some of the challenges addressed throughout this conference. The panel took several questions from the audience which stimulated a dynamic debate on the importance and contextual relevance of PISA's educational rankings.
The last day of the conference split participants into three working groups: teachers planning a shared regional agenda, consultations among the CDRSEE's teachers committee, and improving education vertically and horizontally.
Following, a concluding panel ensued that aimed to sum up the developments of the conference and assess what the future holds for history education in South East Europe, as well as the future direction of the CDRSEE. While much praise was given to teachers, education experts, the CDRSEE board and staff, and other participants of this extensive initiative, it was evident that more hard work is ahead. Among the most notable conclusions at this final panel derived at was the need to reach out to even further groups of teachers and educators in our region, establish a permanent education committee that will have the capacity to review and select workbook material, and to ensure collaboration and raise awareness among representatives of the European Commission focused on education. Furthermore, this unique initiative of education reform in South East Europe needs to acquire broad support from education ministers from the countries in which it operates and it stands a chance of being a truly successful initiative that will be replicated far beyond our region.
All pictures taken by Predrag Tratnik.